A recent Court of Appeal decision on testamentary capacity has been added to the By Lawyers publication 101 Succession Answers (NSW).
In Drivas v Jakopovic  NSWCA 218 the Court of Appeal upheld a first instance decision which had given substantial weight to the evidence of the attending solicitor over the retrospective evidence of medical experts based on the deceased’s medical records.
The case is notable because the solicitor had no specific recollection, nor any notes, of the interaction with the client. However the will was time-stamped to show it had been prepared over the course of 1.5 hours spent with the client. The solicitor was very experienced in preparing wills and dealing with elderly clients, including assessing their testamentary capacity. The solicitor gave evidence as to his usual practice when taking instructions, including his understanding of the legal tests for capacity laid down in Banks v Goodfellow (1870) LR 5 QB 549.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the fist instance judge that the evidence of the solicitor – which suggested there was no issue with the will maker’s capacity – was preferable to the evidence of doctors who had considered the deceased’s medical records and made a retrospective assessment that she lacked capacity.
This case highlights the importance of the role of the attending solicitor in assessing testamentary capacity. However it is specific to its facts and reliance upon ‘usual practice’ as evidence of capacity is not ideal. The prudent course, as noted both under Capacity in 101 Succession Answers and in the commentary in the By Lawyers Wills guide, is for the attending lawyer to ensure that comprehensive notes are taken. The notes should include specific reference to the legal tests in Banks v Goodfellow. Where capacity may be in issue, a statement from the testator’s GP or treating doctor as to their capacity, addressing the tests in Banks v Goodfellow, is also likely to be valuable evidence to protect against any later challenge to the will maker’s capacity.
101 Succession Answers (NSW) is available in the reference materials folder in the NSW Wills, Estates, Powers of Attorney, Appointment of Enduring Guardian and Family Provision guides.